Will Apple and the EU collide over unfair iPhone contracts?

Is the European Union about to don its sleuth cap again in the name of fair competition?

That's what the latest reports seem to indicate, after the New York Times linked Europe's supra-governmental body with a potential investigation of iconic US electronics manufacturer Apple.

While a formal complaint has yet to be filed, the evidence apparently points to EU regulators being encouraged to investigate the conditions that Apple imposes on networks wishing to carry the iPhone.

"We have been contacted by industry participants and we are monitoring the situation, but no antitrust case has been opened," an EU representative said.

According to people familiar with the situation, some of Europe's mobile providers are unhappy at Apple's "unusually strict" terms of partnership. For instance, Apple is alleged to push hefty iPhone sales quotas on to carriers and then charge for unsold devices - stipulations that could be interpreted as unfairly biasing retail practices.

The bulk of complaints are thought to derive from France, though other countries are understood to be involved as well.

Apple has yet to respond to individual requests for comment, but did issue a broad statement pertaining to the recent reports.

"Our contracts fully comply with local laws wherever we do business, including the EU," an Apple spokeswoman said.